[iDC] How does social media educate?

Grant Kester gkester at ucsd.edu
Sun Feb 11 20:04:07 EST 2007

Hi Trebor and All,

My point in referencing Evangelical models of collectivity is simply  
to question the ease with which technological modes that encourage  
sociability are seen as an intrinsically good or progressive in some  
of the list discussions. It's not the geographic diversity that  
concerns me as much as the a priori assumptions about the modeling of  
sociability in these varying contexts (and the need to move beyond  
the simplistic 'corporate' vs. 'populist'/hacker opposition). As I  
noted in a response to Ulises earlier, one of the most impressive  
models of a rhizomatic communications in recent US history involves  
the circulation of information within the Aryan Nations Brotherhood,  
while most of it's members were housed in maximum security prisons.  
For more details on the obvious similarities between Social Media  
rhetoric and earlier technological forms see James Carey's work,   
which explores parallels with steam and electrical power (vis a vis.  
political rhetoric). I discuss Carey's book briefly in an ancient  
essay on information policy and the Freedom of Information Act:



On Feb 11, 2007, at 3:53 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> A few responses. In 2004 Judith Donath provided a useful, long  
> definition of "sociable media." She started: "Sociable media are  
> media that enhance communication and the formation
> of social ties among people. Such media are not new – letter  
> writing can be traced back thousands of years – but the advent of  
> the computer has brought about an immense number
> of new forms."
> The term *sociable* media acknowledges the possibility of sociality  
> instead of blindly assuming that the online millions will simply  
> come if you open up a room. "Sociable web media,"
> then, specifies the meaning a bit more as it separates the meaning  
> from its offline equivalents.
> Web 2.0- I aint your friend. And that is not just because of your  
> vagueness or silly suggestion of newness or your ties to the  
> O'Reilly publishing empire. I am skeptical of your name
> (not the phenomena that you stand for) because your branding is  
> meant to explain and frame the emerging sociable worlds and the way  
> we act in them.  The official discourse that
> you stand for has become an important placeholder for corporate  
> agendas in which your "brand began to be understood less as  
> 'symbolic extensions of products' and more as virtual
> communities constructed in media-space." (Mattelart)
> It matters, which terms we use to name our worlds. It is also  
> significant to realize that we are tenants and not landladies in  
> most sociable web spaces that we inhabit. That Murdoch
> has MySpace in his pocket means, as Ulises points out that "...  
> social media create a 'market,' [and] we can expect only certain  
> kinds of solutions to emerge from its application."
> Grant:
>> "Theoretical speculation about democratic will-formation and  
>> participatory ethics is great, but how about some discussions of  
>> social media that are grounded in an analysis of the
> actual complexity, and contradiction, of social formations on a  
> more global scale?"
> In response to your two points: first, much of the discussions here  
> are not speculation, Grant, but a look at the specifics of sociable  
> web media. We are working with examples all
> along-- it's not all hypothetical. Second, you ask for a global  
> perspective. I, and many others, pay close attention to what  
> happens in China, Brazil, India, Vietnam, Congo, Malaysia,
> Iraq, Iran, UAE, and Cuba. While today it is still important to be  
> tuned in to the American teenager who is hooked on MySpace, in a  
> few years, sociable web media history will not be
> written in the USA. In Africa, mobile sociality moves to the  
> cellphone. In Asia, MySpace clones are crowding the WWW. I think  
> your call for a more global perspective is useful. It'd be
> silly, however, to ignore the substantial and indeed very important  
> developments that currently still come with an American stamp on  
> them. And, yes, echoing Ulises-- please give us
> more insight into the history of cable TV and its parallel to  
> sociable media.
> Armin's account of the young hacker:
>> "having looked at myspace et al, he came to the conclusion that  
>> whoever called those environments 'social' must have a very  
>> different idea from his about what is 'social' (marked by
> or passed in pleasant companionship with one's friends or associates.)
> While I'd not use Danah's exact words ("preposterous" and  
> "idiotic") I agree with her that we cannot discount the current  
> sociality as being social. All I can say, Armin, is: "log on,
> have a look for yourself." Numbers can always be viewed with a  
> skeptical eye but it means something if a recent Pew report showed  
> that 55% of all American teens use social
> networking sites.
> Armin:
>> "i follow the discussion closeloy enough to see that it is very  
>> uncritical of those commercial spaces and i have not seen much  
>> nourishing on this list so far of alternatives."
> Well, my former high school teacher comes to mind who always  
> demanded: only comment on the book if you actually read it (or, as  
> I’d add-- care to dig in the archive). For starters:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2005-December/thread.html
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2006-March/thread.html
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2006-June/thread.html
> Armin
>> "The net is still there and is still much bigger than rupert  
>> murdoch or myspace or even google."
> Perhaps, Armin, you do not recognize the criticality of commercial  
> spaces in our discussions because they do not fly the traditional  
> flags of activism (no tactical media stickers here). In
> my opinion, one of the tracks for criticality today is to device  
> "new 'social scripts' that deal with the tensions in these new  
> social architectures." The corporate-bad, hacker-good logic
> does not work here. I agree with Ulises who writes that "sure,  
> authentic alternatives can emerge, but most of them tend to be co- 
> opted sooner or later, and those that don't still have
> to operate within a capitalist framework."
> And finally, Danah:
>> "What do we gain from valuing participation?  And what does it  
>> mean that participation in some arenas is perceived as more  
>> valuable  than others? (And what does it mean that
> enforced participation makes me sulk in a corner like a two year  
> old throwing a temper tantrum?)"
> "Lurking" for me is also participation. Forwarding, subscribing,  
> commenting, moderating, reading... that's all participation.  
> Contributing to knowledge networks is a valuable activity in
> my opinion. Here, knowledge unfolds over time, (in many cases) not  
> as a broadcast statement but as an evolving addition of one point  
> of lived expertise to the other.
> However, the various intensities of participation that I just  
> mentioned contribute in different ways to the value of a research  
> network. Why bother participating in this or that arena
> when I can have more (expert) readers, social capital, micro-fame  
> and respondents in the other? Sure, we situate our participation  
> for a myriad of reasons but nudging participation is
> not the same like "enforcing" it.
> In terms of participation in an educational context, I agree with  
> Ulises:
>> "People need to develop the critical skills necessary to  
>> differentiate between open and proprietary platforms, and be aware  
>> of the repercussions of what happens when the former
> mutates into the latter. People need to be able to determine when  
> it's appropriate to use corporate platforms to disseminate a  
> message, and how to maximize its effect."
> Best,
> Trebor
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Grant Kester
Coordinator, Ph.D. Program in Art & Media History
Associate Professor, Art History
Visual Arts Department, 0084
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0084
(858) 822-4860
gkester at ucsd.edu

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